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The Coast Guard Lieutenant's Arrest Fits a Pattern of Terrorism Linked to Anti-Government and White Nationalist Extremism

The arrest of a heavily armed white nationalist in Maryland on Wednesday follows another year of deadly far-right extremism.
The collection of weapons and ammunition federal agents say Christopher Paul Hasson had stockpiled in his Silver Spring apartment.

The collection of weapons and ammunition federal agents say Christopher Paul Hasson had stockpiled in his Silver Spring apartment.

Christopher Paul Hasson, a Coast Guard lieutenant and self-described white nationalist, is accused of planning a domestic terrorist attack. Hasson allegedly targeted prominent liberal figures in government and media, and court documents record Hasson calling for "focused violence" to "establish a white homeland."

Hasson, who is also a former United States marine, allegedly worked as lone wolf. But when police arrested him in his home in Maryland on Wednesday, they found enough weaponry to arm a small militia: handguns, rifles, bullet proof vests, and stacks and stacks of ammunition.

Hasson's arrest fits into a growing pattern of white nationalist violence and homegrown far-right extremism. According to a report by the Anti-Defamation League, far-right domestic terrorists were responsible for almost all extremist-related killings in the U.S. last year. Of the 50 total extremist-related killings committed in 2018, the ADL found that 78 percent of perpetrators had affiliations with white nationalism, and 16 percent had an affiliation with anti-government extremism. Another 4 percent of the murders were attributed to the misogynist "incel" ideology, and only 2 percent (one murder) were attributed to domestic Islamist extremism.

According to the ADL's report, the ideological breakdown in extremist killings in 2018 continued a broader trend, with right-wing extremists being responsible for "the vast majority of extremist-related murders in the past decade." Of the 427 total deaths from extremist killings between 2009 and 2018, the ADL found that 73.3 percent could be attributed to right-wing extremism.

In 2015, Pacific Standard contributing writer Jared Keller posed a question: "Right-wing extremism kills more Americans than Islamic terrorism. So why aren't we more afraid of it?" Keller explored the psychology that explains why fear of Islamist terrorists dominated many American's psyches, even as the threat of right-wing extremism was statistically higher, writing:

According to David Ropeik, former director of risk communication at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, experience and culture tend to shape our fears and anxieties more than rational, statistical odds; we're more likely to fear things we've had first-hand experience with than we are to dread abstract, distant threats. Even that fear of snakes and sharks, statistically insignificant threats to our livelihood, may stem from our horrifying experiences watching Anaconda or Jaws in theaters.*

This year, when the ADL released its report on 2018, The Atlantic's Adam Serwer asked why the threat from white terrorists does not evoke the same sort of public response as the threat of terrorism committed by Muslim people or other minorities. The corrective to the imbalance, according to Serwer, is not to increase surveillance on white people, but rather to "extend the same benefit of the doubt, the same proportionate, measured response with which Americans meet attacks from right-wing extremists, to attacks of all sorts."

According to court documents, Hasson studied the manifesto of the white nationalist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed over 77 people in two attacks in Norway. In the manifesto, Breivik expressed his desire to inspire and instruct other white nationalists to carry out attacks, in Europe and the U.S.

*Update—February 22nd, 2019: This post had been updated with the correct description of David Ropeik's former position at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis.